Gone quarantinin’: 6 things to know for March 10
Israel media review

Gone quarantinin’: 6 things to know for March 10

Israel seals off its borders to protect itself from the coronavirus threat as some fret about economic collapse and what’s really behind the move

The front seats of a Jerusalem public bus are blocked off on March 10, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of a new coronavirus.  (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
The front seats of a Jerusalem public bus are blocked off on March 10, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of a new coronavirus. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Everybody hide: Israel’s decision to force self-quarantine on anyone entering from abroad — essentially cutting off visits from non-Israelis — is regarded as an uber-drastic measure, but not necessarily criticized in light of the coronavirus threat.

  • “Quarantine order,” reads the headline on the massive front page package in Yedioth Ahronoth, calling it “a dramatic step,” a word it’s used with pretty much every measure Israel has taken to wall itself off from the virus.
  • “Nation under lockdown,” reads the top headline in fellow tabloid Israel Hayom, leading to the question of what headline they will use should Israel actually lock down, Italy style.
  • “This virus has really made the world crazy … Jews without an Israeli passport can’t fly to their land for Purim, and if nothing changes — they also won’t be able to do Passover,” writes editor Boaz Bismuth, under the headline “Terrible days” (which in Hebrew is the same word used for Days of Awe or the High Holidays).

2. Judgment Day is nigh: Channel 12 news also uses a Yom Kippur analogy, reporting that Ben-Gurion airport is heading toward Yom Kippur footing — i.e., closed except for emergencies.

  • “I’ve been with the [airport authority] for 40 years and we’ve never experienced anything like this. Not in the Gulf War and not in the first or second intifadas,” the head of the airport union tells the station. “We’re headed toward Yom Kippur footing, and in the end we will end up on a footing like Yom Kippur.”
  • The head of a travel agent association tells Kan that the decision could lead to the total collapse of the tourism industry.
  • “We have reached our day of judgment, there is a feeling that these decisions were made without taking into account that the damage that may be done could be worse than the damage from coronavirus,” she says.
  • Channel 13 reports that Arkia is essentially shutting down operations after returning anyone abroad back home, with a letter from the company calling it a “hard day” for the industry.
  • But many foreign airlines have yet, as of Tuesday morning, to cancel many flights or even issue clear guidelines for those who may have had travel plans, leading to oodles of confusion. Asked why by the Globes business daily, a representative of a major airline says that they have yet to receive any instructions from Israeli authorities on the matter. “The representative expressed total confusion and even asked what the directives said, so they could pass the message on to the company’s management so they can consider next steps.”
  • In fact, a NOTAM notice to airlines on the blanket ban was published, albeit only Tuesday morning. Interestingly, the NOTAM (notice to airmen) expires on March 31, 2021, and not March 24, 2020, which would be two weeks after it was put in place, supposedly for only two weeks.

3. Dude, where’s my stuff: Allon Moses, director of the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Hadassah Medical Center, tells The Times of Israel that the directive is likely to last beyond two weeks anyway.

  • “If we want to keep up the small numbers [of cases] we have to be extreme in our measures. This restriction on all returning Israelis and any tourists who arrive is important and I support it,” he says.
  • Extreme quarantines are one thing. But what happens when Israelis realize they can’t order from Amazon for Ali Express anymore? Speaking to Army Radio, Finance Ministry director Shai Babad brings up an overlooked problem with the flight ban.
  • “We will need to find a solution for all the packages that come to Israel on passenger flights,” Babad says, indicating that no solution is currently in place.
  • Haaretz reports that “The suspension of thousands of flights to Israel from Europe and the United States is expected to disrupt the flow of orders, initially by causing lengthy delays in deliveries from overseas, and later due to products being out of stock and logistics companies unable to make deliveries at all.”

4. How did we get here? According to Haaretz, “the decision was the result of Netanyahu wanting to add the US alone to the list, but not wanting to anger the US administration. The Health Ministry supported adding all countries, but given the wide economic ramifications, it needed the convening of the cabinet, which held it up by a day.”

  • “The main reason for the government’s curious – and dangerous – hands-off policy towards the US isn’t internal pressures or any valid concern that including the US would damage ties between the two countries. Rather, it is Benjamin Netanyahu’s apprehension that such a move would damage the reputation and electoral prospects of his friend and ally Donald Trump,” writes the paper’s Chemi Shalev.
  • Channel 13 news reports that the move to add the whole world and not just the US was pushed by US Vice President Mike Pence in a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday.
  • Pence reportedly warned Netanyahu that if the US was blacklisted, it would not go down well in Washington, in particular because no other country was making similar demands of those arriving from the US. He noted that the Trump administration would accept an Israeli decision for a sweeping global quarantine order, the report said.
  • In Yedioth, Prof. Hagai Levin writes that “lessons must be learned to improve the decision-making process in light of the irregular process, made while lacking critical data,” to ensure public faith in authorities.

5. Sicker together: Meanwhile, AIPAC continues to be wrapped up in a coronavirus quagmire. Amid news that lawmakers are quarantining after attending CPAC, AIPAC is refusing to say whether any of those with the virus had attended the conference.

  • Asked by The Times of Israel whether the organization had been in touch with any members of Congress or congressional staff who met with the coronavirus-infected conference attendees, an AIPAC official said they “don’t have anything further — we continue to follow the guidelines by local and federal public health authorities,” Eric Cortellessa reports.
  • Meanwhile, one of the first three cases in Ohio is someone who was at AIPAC, according to Cleveland.com.
  • The individual was apparently on a bus with members of the Jewish Federation from Cleveland, and in close contact with students from the Fuchs Mizrahi Jewish high school.
  • “One of these confirmed cases was in very close contact with our students who attended the AIPAC Conference in Washington, D.C. We are currently working closely with our local health department and following their guidance in taking necessary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” a school official is quoted telling the Cleveland Jewish News.
  • Haaretz reports that Israel has still refused to ask AIPAC attendees to quarantine.
  • “I have not been instructed to go into quarantine since returning. I also called the government hotline and was told there are no special instructions regarding the conference. I canceled some plans I had for this week, but am not fully in quarantine,” one Israeli speaker at the conference tells the paper.

6. Come together, not apart: It’s not just the quarantine that’s the problem. Reuters Bureau chief Dan Williams reports from the Tel Aviv Luna Park amusement park that it is a ghost town on what is normally one of its busiest days of the year.

  • Dan Galai, an expert in finance, financial engineering, and risk management at the Hebrew University, tells ToI that “People are afraid, also internally, to go to hotels or to be together with many people.”
  • “We see it also in restaurants that serve local crowds. the demand is going down substantially because people are afraid. The key words are uncertainty and fear,” he says.
  • Yet people are still finding ways to pull together even when they are pushed apart. Yedioth reports that in the settlement of Leshem, where dozens of fathers are in quarantine after taking a community ski trip, the community has pulled together, with each family in isolation pairing with another family to help it take care of its needs, like shopping, cooking and a babysitter (which seems to be the one thing a quarantined family would not need).
  • “This isolation is a challenge, but the community saved us,” says one resident.
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